Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing

Cornish Short StoriesShort stories can be difficult to contend with – their brevity creates a sense of unease. They can never fully reveal the whole story. Instead, they provide something unique and captivating – a glimpse into a parallel universe where anything can happen, and the best short stories are those which pull you into their world for a few marvellous pages, seducing you into a false sense of security, then abruptly leaving you to your own wistful thoughts, as you mull over what you’ve just read, often wishing for more.  

Cornish Short Stories presents a set of tales linked by place – the atmospheric wilds of Cornwall, past and present. The first story of the volume, ‘Roaring Girl’ by Alan Robinson, is an unnerving yet satisfying piece, playing with the expectations of its protagonist, a young man seeking critical feedback at a literature festival, and getting far more than he bargained for. It sets the scene for a raft of tales that twist and turn, sailing through Cornish towns and villages along the way.

‘Sonny’ by Rob Magnusson Smith is a beautiful story which captures the essence of connection between human and animal, as two men decide to rescue an injured seagull:

“…looking into the eye of a seagull was unnerving. It was like peering over a cliff, or into a moving river. How in the world had these birds survived? The ancient volcanoes had spewed out lava. The continents had risen and broken apart, and for all the millions of years the earth was capable of supporting life, through the meteors and ice ages, seagulls had held on. Now they were landing in back gardens, sharing sofas with humans in Cornwall.”

The seagull is like an alien from another world – silent and calm, strange and still in this new human environment.

Woodcut by Angela Annesley

The collection is illustrated with woodcuts

My favourite story in the collection was ‘The Haunting of Bodmin Jail’ by Anastasia Gammon – a ghost story with a hilarious twist, as a real ghost appears on a ghost tour, and Jane (the protagonist) must persuade a whole host of ghosts to go back and leave her in peace. I won’t forget that one in a hurry!

There are other stories which leave you feeling cheated, or confused, or shocked – and that’s the point. The short story is a form of writing designed to get under the reader’s skin and stay there. You are supposed to be affected by these stories, to remember them, to ponder over them.

They can be abrupt and disconcerting, such as ‘Beginning Again’ by Candy Neubert, which retells its own beginning a second time, differently, so that you don’t quite know where you stand, or what is real and what is imagined. Perhaps all of it is imagined, or maybe it is all real. You’ll never know.

I love the front cover of this small volume – a wind blown tree, slate grey and yellowish green and it is richly illustrated with woodcuts that create a sense of time suspended and the abundant wilderness of the Cornish countryside.

This is a collection full of life and surprises, with a focus on the characters of Cornwall. The book closes with the soft tread of our ancestors crossing the Tamar River for the first time: “beyond even the first wisps of myth-smoke… small, fur-clad groups of light-limbed Palaeolithic travellers” who tiptoe through the final story, ‘On the Border’ by Tim Hannigan, and out the other side…

The cover is designed by Vita Sleigh, the woodcuts by Angela Annesley. Cornish Short Stories is edited by Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley, published by The History Press.

Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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